Is Remodeling a Technical Task?
Why do we Believe we can Manage our own Renovation Project?
I'd like to talk to you about how technical remodeling is. Yeah, it's pretty technical. You have to know certain things to do it. I'm going to point out something about the construction of your home and the process that goes into building it and remodeling it that you may not have thought about before.
It's funny because I find that many of the people I talk to; I go to trade shows and I give talks; and I spend a lot of time talking to folks who are either in the middle of a remodel and they have questions or need some guidance, or somebody who's trying to decide if this is what he or she should do.
HGTV, DIY, Magnolia network, and other home improvement networks, over-simplify the process.
This type of programming provides bad information, at least inaccurate information, to a lot of those who are looking to do something with their home, or do some kind of remodeling, or maybe even build a new home. I've mentioned a couple of times that the programming on HGTV and those type of channels are entertainment, they don't represent how a project actually runs. I'm not badmouthing them. I know that many of those who read my blogs or listen to my podcasts are fans of these networks, and I'm with you. I enjoy watching them sometimes. Often times it really frustrates me.
Take Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. Chip Gaines knows very little about the construction industry, but man is he entertaining. There are many things that I've seen him miss. I'm not here to criticize these folks who are wildly successful. I'd love to meet Chip Gaines. I'd love to spend time with him. I think he's just a hoot. I think his wife Joanna Gaines has good taste and a fantastic eye for design. I'm not a big shiplap and subway tile guy, but I've installed miles of it because they inspired an entire movement - that whole farmhouse thing.
So yeah, I think that there's always a positive. There's always a good, you can get out of that. But again, HGTV is not representative of the building industry. It's representative of the entertainment industry.
How can I explain how technical a remodeling project is?
Well, let's look at it this way. When a home is built from scratch it was just a vacant lot out there with trees on it. What is the process that goes into building this brand-new home?
Let's say it's a 2000 square foot brick house with three bedrooms, two baths, living area, it has a nice central air conditioning system, it's got energy efficient windows, either an on- demand water heater, or maybe we're going with a traditional water heater.
So, the first thing that happens is an architect draws this house up and all the specific things that go into this basket of the design. There are construction technical specifics to be considered.
• What is the pitch of the roof going to be? If the pitch is under 4” on 12" you can't install a shingle roof on it. You have to use a metal roof or some other type of material. These are things the architect knows, and they figure into this:
• The stairs - they must have a certain rise and run.
• The designer figures in little things like your toilet has to have 32 inches in clearance, which I think it should be bigger than that because I'm a pretty big fellow. but that's a standard.
• Is your vanity going to be 32 inches tall, which is lower than normal now days? It's going to be a full 36-inch height.
These are things that all need to be decided upon before the build.
What about the structure? Let's talk about the foundation. It requires a lot of engineering. There are a lot of moving parts to a foundation. It's a very technical part of the build. If your interior design is not open concept, you will need a lot of beams in the foundation.
If you are going open concept, someone needs to design the structure overhead to support the weight of the roof over long spans. Are we going with floating beans up in the attic Are we going with protruding beams? Wall height, beams?
An engineer will be needed to help you put that together. But the point is before your house is built, there are a whole lot of highly credentialed, highly skilled, and highly educated folks that are putting that project together. Once the home is designed you need skilled artisans. They build what is designed and engineered.
Let's start from the bottom with your concrete crew. Are you building a post-tension slab a traditional, steel rebar slab? Are you going to use stabilized fill, or are you going to use standard fill? The engineering will determine that. How deep and how wide are your structural beams on this foundation? They must cross underneath where your bearing walls are going to go so you have more support there. There's just a lot that goes into it. It's very technical.
Electrical. We're going to bring 200-amp service in and we're going to have split it up into a sub panel. We must make sure we have enough electricity going from point A to point B. How will our GFCI's and our lighting going to work? How are we going to get enough power to our AC units? If it's a two-story home, it might need two AC units. There are a lot of things to be decided.
I 'm spending a lot of time on specifics and I don't want to bore you, but I think we can agree that building a brand-new house is a highly technical process. It involves a lot of skill, a lot of education, and a lot of input from certified professionals.
None of this technical complexity is new information. Most homeowners understand the general complexities that are a part of building a new home. How many homeowners would undertake building a brand-new house by themselves?
I'm not talking about having a GC build it. I'm talking about the owner saying, " I'm going to get an architect then I'm going to build it myself." That would be a daunting task for somebody who doesn't do this for a living. Even for a lot of builders this is a daunting task.
As a homeowner, you buy a house. It is built. All of this technically challenging work and effort has gone into it. It's ready to move into. You move your furniture and your stuff in. A couple of years pass. One night you sit there, watching TV. Looking around, you decide, “You know, I think I'd like a little more room here. I'm not really happy with the way that kitchen looks. Maybe I want to get some more cabinets in there, or maybe we want to put in a larger cooktop. I want to get some more room in here. I want this bedroom converted to an office since I am working from home now. You start dreaming about what you want to do. You may decide to GC the renovations themselves thinking, “I 'll just hire the trades and do some of it myself to save a buck or two.”
So, the question I have is this: at what point in the process from when your house evolved from a vacant lot to where your home did the construction process simplify itself until it was no longer a technical nightmare for the layman? Why is it that at the beginning, the same homeowner would never conceive to undertake the construction of this thing, but while he's living there, he thinks, “Well, you know, I think I'm going to remodel it and I can do a lot of this myself to save some money?”
The answer is that it doesn't stop being a highly technical remodeling project. Your home is a highly technical operation in a highly technical process, fraught with dangers and hazards. Something as simple as changing out a door: let's say you have a three foot back door in your house and you want to put six foot double French doors in. Your house could fall down during the process of changing those doors out. That's how technical it is because those are structural components that you're modifying. And if you don't know what you're doing, things could go horribly wrong.
I was on a job not long ago where these folks just wanted me to take a look and see what was going on. And it's a good thing I did because they had hired some carpenters. to open up the floor plan of their two-story house. They had a big, vaulted ceiling in the living room, kitchen area. They wanted to remove a wall downstairs to create an open space for their cooking dining area. There were bedrooms upstairs. They were trying to remove a wall and put a beam in its place. I saw that these guys were moving the wall without any temporary braces to shore up the second floor and the roof. They were just tearing out the wall!
In a panic, I told them to stop! Don't go any further! Don't do a thing because there is no structure to support that second floor above you. Once that wall is pulled out, the structure is destroyed. And even if it doesn't fall down, because there was a chance that it may not fall down immediately, there's going to be permanent damage to the house.
In this case, we built some temporary walls, then we installed double 14-inch LVLs for structural support. We spanned it, but it was a highly technical job.
We completed a project not long ago where we were tearing out the entire kitchen. As with so many of these houses built in the seventies, the ceiling was built at seven feet - a foot lower than the rest of the ceilings in the home. A rectangular recessed fluorescent light fixture was installed in the dropped ceiling. When we demo'd the lowered ceiling, there was a protruding beam carrying the weight of that dropped ceiling. The roof was also braced from the beam to the rafters above it. It was a true structural component.
The homeowner looked up there and asked if I was sure we wanted to pull that beam out. He commented that it looked like it was holding a lot of weight. It seemed very technical to do.
I said, yes, sir, it's highly technical. Absolutely. There's nothing in your house that we're going to do that at one point, or another is not technical. Anytime you mess with one portion of a house, you are messing with the engineering, with the structure of the home.
There's no such thing as a nonbearing wall. In the vernacular of the industry, a bearing wall is a wall that carries the weight of the roof. That is the industry term for it. But all walls bear weight, whether they're bearing the weight of ceiling joists, sheetrock, insulation, or HVAC, it's bearing weight. If you pull that wall out, even if it's categorized as a partition wall, you could have catastrophic damage done to the house.
In this case, I told the owner, it's very technical removing a structural component when we're going to replace it. Ultimately, what we did, because we had gas lines and AC ducts in the way, we put a floating beam in the attic, and then we suspended the ceiling joists from it.
Then, of course, we braced the roof and built a stiff back. But because we knew what we were doing - and I've built a lot of new houses and I've done a lot of remodeling - we replaced the structural component safely and to engineering specifications. I've done thousands of projects, and I've got a lot of experience. So it wasn't something that was daunting based upon my experience. It was well in my wheelhouse, and I never lost a moment's sleep worrying about it. I'm not trying to be arrogant because that's not it. You must have experts on the job when you renovate your home. You must have people who know what they're doing when you mess with the structure of your home, because the technical aspect of the construction of your home doesn't stop just because you've lived in it and you're familiar with it.
HGTV Shows how Cool it is and how Easy it is to Do.
There are a lot of things that are moving parts that must be addressed. So, if you're going to work on your home, or if you're going to have somebody come in and do it, one of two things is going to happen.
Either you're going to have to make sure that you have somebody who can manage the project for you, or you should hire a qualified remodeling contractor who can do it for you and take the responsibility for the build.
Make sure you've got the necessary knowledge and the support from professionals who can help you get the work done. That's what I would encourage you to do.
Anyway. I hope this has been an, an interesting segment for you as far as the technical aspect of it, because I run into it a lot where people really take remodeling for granted, thinking:
“I saw this really attractive couple on TV building almost the same thing, and it only took them 42 minutes to do it, after you take out the commercials, and it looked great. If they can do it, I can do it. Understand that is not reality. That's entertainment.